The Paradise Mystery by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter XXVI. The Other Man
It was close on five o'clock when Glassdale, leaving Folliot at his garden door, turned the corner into the quietness of the Precincts. He walked about there a while, staring at the queer old houses with eyes which saw neither fantastic gables nor twisted chimneys. Glassdale was thinking. And the result of his reflections was that he suddenly exchanged his idle sauntering for brisker steps and walked sharply round to the police-station, where he asked to see Mitchington.
Mitchington and the detective were just about to walk down to the railway-station to meet Ransford, in accordance with his telegram. At sight of Glassdale they went back into the inspector's office. Glassdale closed the door and favoured them with a knowing smile.
"Something else for you, inspector!" he said. "Mixed up a bit with last night's affair, too. About these mysteries--Braden and Collishaw--I can tell you one man who's in them."
"Who, then?" demanded Mitchington.
Glassdale went a step nearer to the two officials and lowered his voice.
"The man who's known here as Stephen Folliot," he answered. "That's a fact!"
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Mitchington. Then he laughed incredulously. "Can't believe it!" he continued. "Mr. Folliot! Must be some mistake!"
"No mistake," replied Glassdale. "Besides, Folliot's only an assumed name. That man is really one Falkiner Wraye, the man Braden, or Brake, was seeking for many a year, the man who cheated Brake and got him into trouble. I tell you it's a fact! He's admitted it, or as good as done so, to me just now."
"To you? And--let you come away and spread it?" exclaimed Mitchington. "That's incredible! more astonishing than the other!"
"Ah, but I let him think I could be squared, do you see?" he said. "Hush-money, you know. He's under the impression that I'm to go back to him this evening to settle matters. I knew so much--identified him, as a matter of fact--that he'd no option. I tell you he's been in at both these affairs --certain! But--there's another man."
"Who's he?" demanded Mitchington.
"Can't say, for I don't know, though I've an idea he'll be a fellow that Brake was also wanting to find," replied Glassdale. "But anyhow, I know what I'm talking about when I tell you of Folliot. You'd better do something before he suspects me."
Mitchington glanced at the clock.
"Come with us down to the station," he said. "Dr. Ransford's coming in on this express from town; he's got news for us. We'd better hear that first. Folliot!--good Lord!--who'd have believed or even dreamed it!"
"You'll see," said Glassdale as they went out.
"Maybe Dr. Ransford's got the same information." Ransford was out of the train as soon as it ran in, and hurried to where Mitchington and his companions were standing. And behind him, to Mitchington's surprise, came old Simpson Harker, who had evidently travelled with him. With a silent gesture Mitchington beckoned the whole party into an empty waiting-room and closed its door on them.
"Now then, inspector," said Ransford without preface or ceremony, "you've got to act quickly! You got my wire--a few words will explain it. I went up to town this morning in answer to a message from the bank where Braden lodged his money when he returned to England. To tell you the truth, the managers there and myself have, since Braden's death, been carrying to a conclusion an investigation which I began on Braden's behalf--though he never knew of it--years ago. At the bank I met Mr. Harker here, who had called to find something out for himself. Now I'll sum things up in a nutshell: for years Braden, or Brake, had been wanting to find two men who cheated him. The name of one is Wraye, of the other, Flood. I've been trying to trace them, too. At last we've got them. They're in this town, and without doubt the deaths of both Braden and Collishaw are at their door! You know both well enough. Wraye is-"
"Mr. Folliot!" interrupted Mitchington, pointing to Glassdale. "So he's just told us; he's identified him as Wraye. But the other--who's he, doctor?"
Ransford glanced at Glassdale as if he wished to question him, but instead he answered Mitchington's question.
"The other man," he said, "the man Flood, is also a well-known man to you. Fladgate!"
Mitchington started, evidently more astonished than by the first news.
"What!" he exclaimed. "The verger! You don't say!"
"Do you remember," continued Ransford, "that Folliot got Fladgate his appointment as verger not so very long after he himself came here? He did, anyway, and Fladgate is Flood. We've traced everything through Flood. Wraye has been a difficult man to trace, because of his residence abroad for a long time and his change of name, and so on, and it was only recently that my agents struck on a line through Flood. But there's the fact. And the probability is that when Braden came here he recognized and was recognized by these two, and that one or other of them is responsible for his death and for Collishaw's too. Circumstantial evidence, all of it, no doubt, but irresistible! Now, what do you propose to do?"
Mitchington considered matters for a moment.
"Fladgate first, certainly," he said. "He lives close by here; we'll go round to his cottage. If he sees he's in a tight place he may let things out. Let's go there at once."
He led the whole party out of the station and down the High Street until they came to a narrow lane of little houses which ran towards the Close. At its entrance a policeman was walking his beat. Mitchington stopped to exchange a few words with him.
"This man Fladgate," he said, rejoining the others, "lives alone--fifth cottage down here. He'll be about having his tea; we shall take him by surprise." Presently the group stood around a door at which Mitchington knocked gently, and it was on their grave and watchful faces that a tall, clean-shaven, very solemn-looking man gazed in astonishment as he opened the door, and started back. He went white to the lips and his hand fell trembling from the latch as Mitchington strode in and the rest crowded behind.
"Now then, Fladgate!" said Mitchington, going straight to the point and watching his man narrowly, while the detective approached him closely on the other side. "I want you and a word with you at once. Your real name is Flood! What have you to say to that? And--it's no use beating about the bush --what have you to say about this Braden affair, and your share with Folliot in it, whose real name is Wraye. It's all come out about the two of you. If you've anything to say, you'd better say it."
The verger, whose black gown lay thrown across the back of a chair, looked from one face to another with frightened eyes. It was very evident that the suddenness of the descent had completely unnerved him. Ransford's practised eyes saw that he was on the verge of a collapse.
"Give him time, Mitchington," he said. "Pull yourself together," he added, turning to the man. "Don't be frightened; answer these questions!"
"For God's sake, gentlemen!" grasped the verger. "What--what is it? What am I to answer? Before God, I'm as innocent as --as any of you--about Mr. Brake's death! Upon my soul and honour I am!"
"You know all about it;" insisted Mitchington.
"Come, now, isn't it true that you're Flood, and that Folliot's Wraye, the two men whose trick on him got Brake convicted years ago? Answer that!"
Flood looked from one side to the other. He was leaning against his tea-table, set in the middle of his tidy living room. From the hearth his kettle sent out a pleasant singing that sounded strangely in contrast with the grim situation.
"Yes, that's true," he said at last. "But in that affair I--I wasn't the principal. I was only--only Wraye's agent, as it were: I wasn't responsible. And when Mr. Brake came here, when I met him that morning--"
He paused, still looking from one to another of his audience as if entreating their belief.
"As sure as I'm a living man, gentlemen!" he suddenly burst out, "I'd no willing hand in Mr. Brake's death! I'll tell you the exact truth; I'll take my oath of it whenever you like. I'd have been thankful to tell, many a time, but for--for Wraye. He wouldn't let me at first, and afterwards it got complicated. It was this way. That morning--when Mr. Brake was found dead--I had occasion to go up into that gallery under the clerestory. I suddenly came on him face to face. He recognized me. And--I'm telling you the solemn, absolute truth, gentlemen!--he'd no sooner recognized me than he attacked me, seizing me by the arm. I hadn't recognized him at first, I did when he laid hold of me. I tried to shake him off, tried to quiet him; he struggled--I don't know what he wanted to do--he began to cry out--it was a wonder he wasn't heard in the church below, and he would have been only the organ was being played rather loudly. And in the struggle he slipped--it was just by that open doorway--and before I could do more than grasp at him, he shot through the opening and fell! It was sheer, pure accident, gentlemen! Upon my soul, I hadn't the least intention of harming him."
"And after that?" asked Mitchington, at the end of a brief silence.
"I saw Mr. Folliot--Wraye," continued Flood. "Just afterwards, that was. I told him; he bade me keep silence until we saw how things went. Later he forced me to be silent. What could I do? As things were, Wraye could have disclaimed me--I shouldn't have had a chance. So I held my tongue."
"Now, then, Collishaw?" demanded Mitchington. "Give us the truth about that. Whatever the other was, that was murder!"
Flood lifted his hand and wiped away the perspiration that had gathered on his face.
"Before God, gentlemen!" he answered. "I know no more--at least, little more--about that than you do! I'll tell you all I do know. Wraye and I, of course, met now and then and talked about this. It got to our ears at last that Collishaw knew something. My own impression is that he saw what occurred between me and Mr. Brake--he was working somewhere up there. I wanted to speak to Collishaw. Wraye wouldn't let me, he bade me leave it to him. A bit later, he told me he'd squared Collishaw with fifty pounds--"
Mitchington and the detective exchanged looks.
Wraye--that's Folliot--paid Collishaw fifty pounds, did he?" asked the detective.
"He told me so," replied Flood. "To hold his tongue. But I'd scarcely heard that when I heard of Collishaw's sudden death. And as to how that happened, or who--who brought it about --upon my soul, gentlemen, I know nothing! Whatever I may have thought, I never mentioned it to Wraye--never! I--I daren't! You don't know what a man Wraye is! I've been under his thumb most of my life and--and what are you going to do with me, gentlemen?"
Mitchington exchanged a word or two with the detective, and then, putting his head out of the door beckoned to the policeman to whom he had spoken at the end of the lane and who now appeared in company with a fellow-constable. He brought both into the cottage.
"Get your tea," he said sharply to the verger. "These men will stop with you--you're not to leave this room." He gave some instructions to the two policemen in an undertone and motioned Ransford and the others to follow him. "It strikes me," he said, when they were outside in the narrow lane, "that what we've just heard is somewhere about the truth. And now we'll go on to Folliot's--there's a way to his house round here."
Mrs. Folliot was out, Sackville Bonham was still where Bryce had left him, at the golf-links, when the pursuers reached Folliot's. A parlourmaid directed them to the garden; a gardener volunteered the suggestion that his master might be in the old well-house and showed the way. And Folliot and Bryce saw them coming and looked at each other.
"Glassdale!" exclaimed Bryce. "By heaven, man!--he's told on you!"
Folliot was still staring through the window. He saw Ransford and Harker following the leading figures. And suddenly he turned to Bryce.
"You've no hand in this?" he demanded.
"I?" exclaimed Bryce. "I never knew till just now!"
Folliot pointed to the door.
"Go down!" he said. "Let 'em in, bid 'em come up! I'll--I'll settle with 'em. Go!"
Bryce hurried down to the lower apartment. He was filled with excitement--an unusual thing for him--but in the midst of it, as he made for the outer door, it suddenly struck him that all his schemings and plottings were going for nothing. The truth was at hand, and it was not going to benefit him in the slightest degree. He was beaten.
But that was no time for philosophic reflection; already those outside were beating at the door. He flung it open, and the foremost men started in surprise at the sight of him. But Bryce bent forward to Mitchington--anxious to play a part to the last.
"He's upstairs!" he whispered. "Up there! He'll bluff it out if he can, but he's just admitted to me--"
Mitchington thrust Bryce aside, almost roughly.
"We know all about that!" he said. "I shall have a word or two for you later! Come on, now--"
The men crowded up the stairway into Folliot's snuggery, Bryce, wondering at the inspector's words and manner, following closely behind him and the detective and Glassdale, who led the way. Folliot was standing in the middle of the room, one hand behind his back, the other in his pocket. And as the leading three entered the place he brought his concealed hand sharply round and presenting a revolver at Glassdale fired point-blank at him.
But it was not Glassdale who fell. He, wary and watching, started aside as he saw Folliot's movement, and the bullet, passing between his arm and body, found its billet in Bryce, who fell, with little more than a groan, shot through the heart. And as he fell, Folliot, scarcely looking at what he had done, drew his other hand from his pocket, slipped something into his mouth and sat down in the big chair behind him ... and within a moment the other men in the room were looking with horrified faces from one dead face to another.